“The UCI is going too far by banning the use of syringes for recovery products… it’s foolish and dangerous. The riders, as a consequence, are taking pills and risk unsettling their intestines. What they are doing in a Grand Tour is extraordinary, so why lay such strict rules on them? If a doctor says that they need recovery products, then they do. It’s not by drinking sugar water that they will recover from their efforts produced in the rain of that terrible stage with the Gardecchia…”
So says Eddy Merckx in an interview with L’Equipe, the words have been translated by cyclingnews.com. It feels like I’m doubting a god but I can’t help feel he wrong on the subject of recovery methods.
David Millar’s book Racing Through the Dark sets out how he was first persuaded to take “recovery” injections, initially resisting but in time becoming so used to things he learned how to perform the injections himself. He is now against the use of needles and infusions claiming riders can indeed compete in a grand tour without these methods. It’s an anecdote, not data, but the final stage of the Giro was won by Millar.
Millar also makes the point that team doctors can be superfluous at times, the presence of a qualified medic with a team can have its uses but they spend most of their time doing paramedical activities like cleaning up wounds, in essence they are glorified nurses. Except when it comes to recovery products administered intravenously or intramuscularly… here they must know dosages, methods and more. Today nutrition is pretty advanced, pills do not have to harm the intestines, especially when coupled with a healthy diet.
So when Merckx says “if a doctor says that they need recovery products, then they do” then I am less sure. I can’t help think doctors say riders need these products because just as every problem looks like a nail if all you have is a hammer and I wonder if every answer for a team doctor involves a syringe?
Quid pro quo
My view is that riders can compete clean and without intravenous recovery products but I’d also like to see the sporting authorities match the “no needle” policy with a promise to reduce the distances involved, whether during the stage or the transfers. Extra kilometres don’t promote doping but they can push a rider into poor health. A 250km mountain stage is rarely better than a 200km one.
Still a champ
Clearly Merckx is famed for his fast riding and we should not hang on his every word. I’ll add too that he doesn’t always trade on his fame, he can be modest and does a lot of behind-the-scenes charity work, pulling people together for good causes but often without name-dropping. But when he does a big interview with L’Equipe, it can be an awkward read. He also told L’Equipe:
“this story of steak au clenbutérol never convinced me. If he’d eaten it, his team mates would also certainly have been contaminated“
Note if other Astana riders did eat the steak, they simply were not tested because they weren’t winning or in the yellow jersey. Plus not every rider sample from the race went to the Cologne laboratory with its hyper-sensitive measuring capabilities. So the rogue steak hypothesis might well have contaminated other riders only nobody checked this. No big deal but all the same his opinion carries weight and he needs to be careful, casting doubt on Contador’s defence is one thing but he needs to be careful before giving an opinion.
A great rider and rightly his opinions count. Not everything he says is wrong of course but some teams can and do complete grand tours without resorting to syringes and infusions. This isn’t easy but modern sports science and nutrition helps, as does old-fashioned good cooking. Perhaps, just perhaps, Merckx should be getting behind these guys instead of saying injections are needed?